A Muslim candidate running for a Congressional seat in the U.S. House of Representatives said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid told him to quit because of his faith.
Jesse Sbaih, a Democrat who entered the race for a Congressional district in southern Nevada, told The Washington Post that he requested a meeting with Reid to ask for his support with his campaign. Instead, Reid told him to drop out because, “a Muslim cannot win this race.”
“He said, ‘You should not run for this office,’” Sbaih said, according to The Washington Post. A spokesperson for Reid denies that he said those words, instead citing Sbaih’s newcomer status as the reason Reid didn’t think he would win the race against candidates who have previous political experience.
“Senator Reid did not say that,” Kristen Orthman, a spokeswoman in Reid’s Senate office, told The Washington Post. “Jesse Sbaih is a liar and that’s why he is going to lose."
Sbaih, who works as a trial lawyer in Nevada, said that his family immigrated to the U.S. from Jordan when he was 11, and that his experiences with welcoming Americans inspired him to run for office.
“I’ve always felt: The more America gave me, the more I wanted to give back,” Sbaih told The Washington Post. “I did not feel that [my faith] was an issue. They made it an issue. My campaign is about me being an American.”
Sbaih said that he started by asking a political consultant connected to Reid, Rebecca Lambe, for her support. According to Sbaih, he received a similar response from her.
“She said, basically, you’re gonna have a problem winning, as a Muslim, as an Arab,” Sbaih said, according to The Washington Post.
Lambe denies she brought up Sbaih’s religion as a reason that he shouldn’t run.
“It’s not what I said,” Lambe wrote in an email to The Washington Post. “As we would with any candidate, we explored his background, profession, religion, the fact he’d never run before, stance on issues and limited support ...to more fully understand the path and potential attacks from the other side.”
The Congressional seat Sbaih is running for opened up this year after Reid announced his retirement, leaving Rep. Joe Heck of Nevada to run for Senate in his place, according to KSNV.